The human imagination is limitless, a resource which children, writers and escapists alike exploit to its fullest potential. But, with all the talk of the freedom that imagination brings, is it possible that there is another side also? Is it possible that all this ‘freedom’ is exacting a restraint on us that we’re barely even aware of?
Does to write really mean to isolate oneself?
In my experience, and maybe yours is different, then, yes, it inevitably does.
Though it has never helped me get a job, and though I’m still on the outskirts of any career I want to get into, I am proud of my creative degree. I am also proud of my identity as a writer, albeit an unpublished and still largely amateur one. Yet it is the things I am most proud of about myself that distance me from almost everyone else.
In putting words down on a page I seem to become esoteric: something people treat with vague confusion or, worse, question with a prying, admittedly rude, implication that I should stop being so pretentious. Notice I said ‘something’ and not someone because, whatever my other attributes, the writing is the thing that people just cannot understand.
The writing is both fulfilling and isolating.
Isolating, of course, because imagination often makes reality seem banal by comparison, and isolating because writing, by its very definition, is largely a solitary pursuit, based on accumulate man-hours behind a desk and several simultaneous arcs of vicarious living. To be a writer means to admit to a lifestyle of loneliness, where you spend more time in your own mind than anywhere else, and conduct roughly 90% of all lifetime conversations with imaginary, fictitious characters.
Maybe then I should not be so surprised that people fail to understand the whole writing gig.
Maybe there’s the crux of why creativity and madness so often coincide. Social starvation.
And yet, for all that I love writing, for all that it is absolutely vital to exactly who I am, sometimes I’d just like to be freed from the toll of imagination. Be permitted a temporary leave of probation to make a connection, establish even the bare bones of a meaningful friendship, to feel valued, wanted, plugged back into the common world.
Sometimes, but not always.
Most of the time, I enjoy being alone. Or I’ve learned to enjoy it.
I won’t say that I speak for everybody who writes when I say any of this, because I don’t. The isolation I feel could be less as a result of the writing itself, than the person wielding the pen. Where I’m concerned, that’s a definite possibility. I know other writers who seemingly share none of these issues, who flourish exactly because of their writing.
I guess that places the burden of responsibility firmly at my door, but even then, the writing doesn’t help either. It builds the walls higher when they’re already high enough.
Yet it’s also the thing which makes the isolation worth baring, because one day someone might just fall in love with your idea as much as you did.
In her novel Shirley, Charlotte Brontë wrote: ‘[…] and who cares for imagination? Who does not think it a rather dangerous, senseless attribute – akin to weakness – perhaps partaking of frenzy – a disease rather than a gift of the mind?’ While I did not particularly like the novel (see Book Sins – The Classics We Just Couldn’t Swallow) I found those lines poignant, for insisting that imagination and its mediums, particularly writing, could be burdensome, could be isolating, like ‘a disease’ or something ‘rather dangerous’ and, in most cases, was generally likely to be misunderstood by anyone who wasn’t a writer.
In those lines it seemed that Charlotte herself was speaking from experience, and it is an experience which, to all those who practice the craft, has endured straight into the twenty-first century, both eased and exacerbated by leaps in technology and the advent of the internet.
To write, therefore, most of the time does mean to isolate. But then, isn’t something worth doing worth making sacrifices for?